Monday, August 17, 2009

take pride in their lower-class status

Here's a news clip about a "car launch" staged in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, which is a place with, I'm sure, very few non-white people. What interests me, aside from the question of just why people find smashed-up cars entertaining, is two things: the way this news report frames and presents this "redneck event," and the pride that some of the spectators take in being "rednecks." There's actually a third thing too -- just why do people like this kind of staged violence?




News reporters don't merely present "news." Aside from whatever biases they may have, they also shape the stories that they present in light of their beliefs and presumptions (some no doubt unconscious) about their audiences.

The framing of this local TV news report is carefully coded to suggest that the presumed viewers of the TV station's metropolitan area (KARE is in Minneapolis-St. Paul) are seeing something that's definitely outside of their own experience. This rural spectacle is carefully marked for them as a "redneck" event.

KARE's Joe Fryer begins his report this way:

Joe: The spectacle drawing hundreds to a gravel pit down this rural dirt road might make most city boys blush. But here in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, You'll find no red faces . . .

Shot of a laughing woman in a lawn chair: Redneckfest!

Joe: . . . just proud rednecks. It may look like a demolition derby or NASCAR race, but those events feel like the opera compared to this.

At one point a fan says, "Everybody likes crashing metal and crunching steel!" But then, that's not true, is it? The reporter Joe Fryer, for one, probably doesn't like that enough to attend events like this on his own, and he's framing his report in a way that suggests his assumed audience doesn't either. It's these people who like that -- people who aren't used to explaining and elaborating on just why they like what they like.

And Joe Fryer isn't about to try to explain why they like it either. He's just there to present his viewers with this "redneck" spectacle.

Actually, I don't think I can explain why "rednecks" like these events either. I have working-class roots in my family, but I was mostly raised in a privileged, middle-class, white suburb. I thought smashing things and blowing up other things was kind of cool when I was twelve years old, but I don't anymore.

I don't mean to look down on this kind of entertainment, which seems harmless enough (and uses a lot less fuel and resources than something like NASCAR, or, for that matter, a more upscale sport like golf). I'm just wondering why some adults like it.

At one point a spectator says, "I think it's cool to legally destroy something."

Another says, "I've never seen that before. Always wanted to do it, but never seen it."

These audience members seem to be projecting themselves into the event -- they're seeing something that they'd like to do themselves. Is this violence an outlet for those who lead otherwise frustrated lives? A harmlessly vicarious "catharsis"?

I realize that I'm revealing something about myself here, something in terms of class especially. I do have rednecks in my extended family, but again, I wasn't raised to enjoy stuff like this. I was raised, by both my parents and by my larger suburban environment, to abhor violence. And to stifle my own violent urges, or find "healthy" outlets for them, like exercise or competitive sports. Who knows, maybe that stifling was too stifling. Maybe a car launch would have been a good outlet for us generally disciplined, restrained, and rather anxious suburbanites. Nevertheless, had there been a car launch like this one nearby, most of us would have avoided it, just like we avoided local stock car races and demolition derbies. Especially the adults.

As I said above, I'm interested not only in why some people like this kind of event, and the explicit, distanced framing of it by Joe Fryer as a rural "redneck" event. I also want to note the redneck pride expressed by the participants, as another example of "stuff white people do."

The news reporter also wants to note that pride, as an example of the stuff that these white people do. At the end of the clip, Fryer describes a row of lowered pants as a "redneck bow," as he asks, "How else would you end a redneck car launch?" Then a participant speaks the final words: "I am proud to be a redneck."

So there it is again, at the end of this report, like three exclamation points at the end of a sentence -- redneck, redneck, redneck.

Redneck is an identity held by some white people, but of course, it's not just a racial identity. It's also, and probably even more so these days, a class-based identity.

Americans are often described as oblivious to the realities of social class, and I think that's true in many respects. We're often unaware of just what social class is, and how a class-based hierarchy works in and shapes our society, and our own life chances. Most white Americans, when they think about their socioeconomic class status at all, describe themselves as "middle class," whether their income is forty thousand dollars per year or five hundred thousand.

But those who embrace the label of "redneck" are more aware of their class status, just as non-white people in general are more aware of their racial status, and women are more aware of their gender status -- subjugation does that to a person. Most "rednecks" know that they're near the bottom of the class ladder, and they claim to like it there. Or at least, that's what they seem to be claiming when they wave their various banners of "redneck" pride. They're taking pride in their lower-class status, as well as, usually, whatever cultural manifestations of that status happen to be going on at the moment as a demonstration of redneck culture, such as a car launch.

I can't think of another racial/ethnic group in the U.S. that has a subgroup within it that takes such an overtly class-based pride in its lower socioeconomic status -- can you?

We're often encouraged to be proud of who we are. But is redneck pride a good thing, or something that just further holds such people down, by distracting them from the real causes of their own immiseration?

49 comments:

  1. why do they like it? Well maybe because they're BORED, so fake violence/explosions make their lives a little more exciting?

    Small towns aren't that interesting. I know, because I've lived in one and I wanted to kill myself because I was dying from BOREDOM.

    as for redneck pride-- is it wrong? No. I don't think it is. I often tell white people that they should take pride in their heritage, instead of being so angry at everyone else.

    if it's OK for me to be proud to be Indian, why can't white people be proud of their own heritage, too?

    but then again the "WHITE" identity in this country has never really been clear.

    ReplyDelete
  2. GITERDUN!!!

    These questions you ask probably have different answers from different people. I certainly don't get it but I probably wouldn't even after a detailed explanation... it's right up there with "muddin", why is it fun? Don't know, don't care.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Macon d,

    Really, you don't find a similar pride in lower class inner city black culture, that middle class blacks would not relate to?

    Also, if you are not a "redneck" please don't use the term. I know you were quoting the reporter, well use quotes then please. And are you positive your relatives don't mind being called "rednecks" by their more successful relatives? Did you ask them? Not every poor rural whites self-identifies this way. It's like calling someone a queer if you're not gay, or a nigger if you're not black (and reasonably sure they won't be offended).

    You seem really confused. I suspect this comes from treating whites as a monolithic group. Think about it. Not long ago the country was like 90% white. Few had college degrees. Do you think everyone was upper-middle class? Who did the jobs that "POC" do now? No sorry there were not enough blacks!

    You might want to check out Jim Goad's "Redneck Manifesto: How Hicks, Hillbillies and White Trash became America's Scapegoats" - he has a whole chapter, 'Playin' Hard' on the question you have posed here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow, what? This is totally privileged and classist, coming from a middle-class guy. You say you don't want to focus on speculating "why" working-class white people have the culture they do, but you keep speculating. I don't see what this has to do with examining whiteness. You're just being exotifying and weird.

    It's not like redneck culture isn't racist -- anything made up of white people is. And you make a good point that lower-class members of other racial groups rarely take pride in their class status, because being of color already sticks them with the same stereotypes (lazy, dirty, dangerous, stupid...), and intersectionality sucks.

    And there are issues with reclaiming the words "redneck" and "white trash," especially the latter, since it's based on the idea that regular trash = people of color.

    So, those are some issues you could focus on, but instead...

    But is redneck pride a good thing, or something that just further holds such people down, by distracting them from the real causes of their own immiseration?

    ...??? Did you really mean to ask, "Why won't those lower-class people stop oppressing themselves by taking pride in their identity?" (With the subtext of, "If those people would stop wasting time having fun, they wouldn't be poor," and, "Middle-class people can tell them how to live with their oppression.")

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hey now! I STILL like a lot of things I liked back when I was 12! Like unicorns and comic books!

    And now that I'm a few thousand miles away from my rural hometown I admit, I miss is the demolition derbies.

    Our biggest demolition derby is held in conjunction with a tractor/truck pull with our annual agricultural fair. It's our culture.

    I have extremely strong farming/rural/working class roots and heritage, and I do consciously claim with pride to being a 'redneck' in many ways - and it's been done in response other factors.

    Over the past 10-20 years or so, our rural area has transformed from a white farming and slightly industrial community (re: low, working class) to an area where white people fleeing larger sub/urban centres bought up land and developed the area into rural 'estates,' pushed up our land prices, etc., and yet still can commute to cities for the good jobs.

    These white upper class people have turned our smalltown core into a ridiculous 'touristy' centre (for other rich white people) with shops too expensive for locals. Then they have the gall to complain about the smell of manure. It's gentrification, rural town style.

    They're also often fleeing sub/urban areas because they're racist jerks who don't want to live in multicultural settings.

    They don't become a 'part' of the area - they aren't the ones who volunteer, etc. and contribute to the fabric of our community. About the only time they get worked up and involved is when something is lowering their property values.

    In my area, I think many of us who aren't a part of this 'influx' have adopted the 'redneck' label as a form of reappropriation and fighting back against classism.

    Cuz there's nothing WRONG with being rural and farmers, with being 'poor,' with liking country music, knowing how to two-step. At least in my area, we aren't necessarily 'uneducated' - farmers have to be smart and resourceful to survive in this day and age. And we do 'gitterdun'- you want something fixed? Call up a crew of farm kids, and it'll be done - no bureaucracy, no whining or fuss.

    And yes, we do do "stupid" things - demolition derbies, jumping off barns, mudding, shooting off potato guns - but at least with these sorts of things, you're putting technical skills (ie. mechanics) to good use - looking down on these activities goes back to issues of classism. Keep in mind, some of these areas are still on dial-up internet, so you know, we can't hang out and blog all day and be cool ;)

    What bothers me is that in some cases these richer/middle class people have also adopted the 'redneck' status - they think it's a quaint 'Hahah! I live in the country! I saw a cow! I'm a hick!" thing. It's like a version of hipster racism towards white rural people - like when city kids sing that Gretchen Wilson song and think they're cool or something.

    I also feel it's appropriated to justify their 'dislike' (re: racism) when it comes to urban/suburban environments and non-whites. Claiming 'redneck' status to them is a free pass for racism. cuz apparently, hyuck, we don't know better, y'all!

    ... but that's just my experience, and what I've seen in my area - I'm sure it varies depending on different factors - ie. proximity to urban centres, racial demographics, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think the questions you raise about class are very interesting. But I did want to point out that you weren't quite accurate about Turtle Lake having very few nonwhite people.

    The village of Turtle Lake and its surroundings are home to a couple thousand members of the Chippewa tribe. (The St. Croix Casino, owned by the tribe, is in Turtle Lake.) Some of them might have participated in the car launching--it's probably not something that would come up in a fluff TV piece. Of course, I doubt they'd call themselves "rednecks." That certainly seems to be exclusively a white person's label.

    ReplyDelete
  7. DIMA:

    You raise a good point about there being a sort of absence of 'white' identity. Those of us who do have one seem to take it from our European roots--for example, I'm French Canadian, and my husband's ancestry is German. Generally in this country, your racial/ethnic identity is anything other than 'white', and if you can't define yourself as some sort of 'other', well, what are you?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hester Sue TerhuneAugust 18, 2009 at 6:50 AM

    Thank you for that, PegsPirate. I'm a POC from Missouri, one who has traveled, worked, and played outside of urban settings frequently. As much as I can't stand the unapologetic racism of the "Lost Causers" in some parts of the state (and fear these folks, really), I despise the ex-urbanites who play "Little House."

    It's not their prosperity that bothers me; it's the disrespect, disdain, and condescension rained down on "the locals." I've witnessed it up close. And like you said, it's quite obvious some use their surroundings and perceptions of "the locals" to justify or support their own brand of racism. Bleh.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @ Jayn: yep, that's exactly what I meant.

    in this country, "Black" is clearly a cultural identity, but I still think it's a stupid word because you cannot slump Black immigrants from Africa, the Carribbeans, and Black-skinned Latinos in the same category as African-Americans.

    "white" is such a vague, confusing word. Does that include white skinned immigrants from Russia and Bosnia, who clearly have a very different culture from WASP Americans.

    One of my good friends is Russian American and he looks white, but he does not consider himself white, because he feels "different" from white people. He feels more connected to me (as an Indian Muslim) because we share similar family problems and cultural issues that "white" (WASP) people really don't have.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think it is interesting to point out the existence of a classist identity within the white identity. Moreover, the sort of pride that they take in being "rednecks." The stereotype for "redneck" is rather negative. They're associated with being uncouth, loud, and "avoid using big words" (according to urbandictionary.com). What's interesting though is to contrast this with the stereotypes of blacks in this country. Ebonics was heavily criticized and black people are often seen as "loud," yet these aren't stereotypes that are identified with their socioeconomic class as it is in white culture. These are identified as "black." I feel like the existence of a subidentity as "redneck" is another indication of whiteness not being seen as a racial identity, as background as you had suggested in your later post.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I found this post very offensive, though softestbullet and PegsPirate have articulated the problems with it much better than I could. But I'll contribute my two cents anyway.

    This post is absolutely dripping with disdain for poor rural whites. Do you really think that they are uncommonly violent, or that they like being poor? Do you really think they're so awful that they don't deserve self-esteem?

    I mean, how are the violent video games, the action movies, or the competitive sports so beloved by your precious non-violent suburbanites any more "healthy" than car-smashing? Practically everyone likes violent entertainment - to brand rednecks as particularly violent because they do too is to wave your prejudice around like a flag.

    Also, I don't think it's accurate to say they're taking pride in being lower class. They're taking pride in a lot of things that mark them as lower class - AND white, AND rural, I feel it is important to note. Because those things are the stuff of their lives. And I feel like it's usually a lot more fun to celebrate the stuff of one's life rather than let it get you down, regardless of its objective desirability. Not to mention, for most people, there's a lot of comfort in familiarity.

    And hello, you've heard the term "ghetto fabulous" before, right? There are absolutely non-white people who express pride in their (lower-class) culture. And it ain't because they like being poor and oppressed.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I wish we had a car launch near where I live! I like those sorts of things, even though I grew up in a city. And went to one of 'em book learnin' universities and even got a degree. And I work as a programmer.

    But on an occasional weekend I like to go a gravel-pit like area and just shoot at random garbage like plastic bottles, old CDs, phone books and such, so liking to see stuff smash or blow up is not limited to any particular group.

    But, like you said, a lot of the time "suburban culture" forces people to hide such desires and to put up a Stepford Wife style front of "civility"; maybe the rednecks are proud of being able to openly admit what they like without threat of some pseudo-intellectual labeling it low, or uncouth

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think it's interesting that rural Midwesterners have picked up "redneck" as a self-identifier - 15 years ago when I was living in a similar small town, I don't think I ever heard that. I always thought it was a southern thing. The kids I grew up with called themselves hicks, mostly. That same demographic, I mean. I wonder if there's some way to blame Larry the Cable Guy.

    Destroying cars isn't violence. It's messy, and destructive, but - they're cars. They're not alive. That kind of thing *is* fun, just like building catapults or doing roller derby or demolition derby.

    Talking about redneck pride makes me think about this article, from Wild Earth back when it was still publishing - "Are Rednecks the Unsung Heroes of Ecosystem Management?"

    http://www.forestrycenter.org/library.cfm?refID=74248

    ReplyDelete
  14. I don't mean to defend lower-class white racism, but these so-called rednecks are at the lowest class of the social and economic currency totem in the US. Typically, the poorest white people are in rural communities with resources few and far between. They are (often) still racist, however, and therefore take pride in their white ("redneck") roots, because they view themselves as superior to other races.

    Poor non-white people in the US, on the other hand, typically live closer to urban areas (though that is changing), and therefore have more access to resources, whether they choose to utilize them or not.

    ReplyDelete
  15. To DIMA: It's hard, if not somewhat taboo, for an educated and affluent white person to be proud of his or her white heritage because, well, our ancestors were effectively organized criminals, war criminals even if you consider what we did to indigenous peoples. And we're kinda supposed to at least pay lip service to our ancestral shame in order to still consider ourselves good people even as we go on making racist jokes among our white friends and taking advantage of the head start we were given on the basis of our ancestors' successful crimes.

    I, for one, consider my European heritage a neutral or even positive thing. We have some cool cultural heritage from Europe: myths and legends, gods and goddesses, knights and winged dragons, fairy tales and castles. I collect winged dragon stuff. However, I think "whiteness" and what it means in society to be at least a little bit shady. In the old days, European societies had xenophobia and discrimination among one another, e.g., my English ancestors considering my Irish and Scottish ancestors racially inferior; but later, all these identities were united as "White" as a much wider-spread system of xenophobia and discrimination against African, East Asian, South Asian, and Indigenous peoples developed with the era of global colonialism.

    ReplyDelete
  16. bluey,

    "Ghetto Fabulous" is not a term of endearment for all. In fact, it's a backhanded compliment. Unfortunately, for those this term is geared towards, they totally don't understand that it's not a positive term.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Redneck: a term used to identify rural whites, those working out in the fields of the southern United States, whose necks turned red from being out, WORKING (picking cotton, planting vegetables, plowing fields with a horse, etc.), long hours in the sun.

    Often, these rednecks were working along side of blacks (who were usually sharecroppers--those whites were sharecroppers, too).

    Quite a few of those rednecks, because they worked along side blacks, picked up on the singing culture that blacks used to help them get through those long hours, doing that truly hard work in the fields. Many of the early rock-and-rollers were rednecks, whose sound they learned from the blacks.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Jillian: "these so-called rednecks are at the lowest class of the social and economic currency totem in the US." -and- "Poor non-white people in the US, on the other hand, typically live closer to urban areas (though that is changing), and therefore have more access to resources"

    According to Wikipedia, the poorest county in America, Buffalo county South Dakota, is 82% Indigenous people. 9 of the 11 poorest counties (every one of them quite rural) are inhabited my a majority Indigenous population with an average (among all 11) of 68% Indigenous. I this might clear up any confusion about the economic portions of your statements.

    Regarding the social portion of the claim, all I'll say is that I rather disagree with you that poor rural whites are at the bottom of the social, um, "totem", as you called it.

    @Macon: Your ideas about how the media reported the event (presumed target audience, etc.) are pretty interesting to me. There is a definite class hierarchy being suggested, I think, such as with the comment about NASCAR feeling like the opera by comparison. Also, I failed to notice any part of the news clip in which an official name of the event was mentioned, just the spectator interviews, and so I am wondering if the redneck-this and redneck-that was primarily the spin-child of a reporter desperate to make the footage into something capable of getting on the air, at the possible expense of those people getting reported on.

    "Redneck" does have many negative connotations for many people. Perhaps it is worth noting that "redneck", unlike so many other derogatory labels, has what I think are fairly complimentary underlines. Whether it referred to a person laboring outdoors in the sun or the nickname of red-bandanna wearing coal miners fighting for their rights, I see "redneck" as a name as much worth reclaiming as the historically more hateful ones. (Although, as with all name reclaimings, it must be up to the redneck, not some reporter, to make the claim. Did every person at the event identify themselves that way, or just the three or four that he interviewed?)

    Also, Macon, if you are judging negatively a person's pride in their redneck status, then would that mean that you consider their status as lesser and undesirable?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yikes Macon.

    It's just so confusing that you somehow relate rednecks to a sub-racial class, then proceed to do all the "stuff white people do" to them, and even use the same excuses. Although, I sense a little bit that your recognizing your own possible classicism.

    I'm finding it troubling that several people try to tag rural poor whites as some kind of homogeneous group, which they certainly are not.

    Two more things to point out.

    1) This is not violence - it's a car, no people are in danger.

    2) The folks in question are taking pride in the redneck-ness - not their poverty or lower class status. In fact, it is the observers and commentators that are assuming poverty and applying an awful term like "lower class" to them.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Yes GDS, I do sense my own classism, which is what I was getting at with some discussion in this post of myself and my own background. Those of us who are alert to our privileged status in some respects are not automatically alert to our privileged status in other respects. I like to think that I've learned a lot about my whiteness, including the privileges it affords me and others (although I still have a lot to learn). Other privileged statuses that I'm endowed work along with whiteness, of course, but I certainly know that I'm not as cognizant of them (particularly class, gender, and sexuality, but others as well) as I am about whiteness .

    So, I think I could have spent more time and care to avoid being classist in this post, and thereby cover my ass better in this respect, but I decided to write it in a more personal vein, "realizing," as I wrote in the post, "that I'm revealing something about myself here, something in terms of class especially." As I grew up, I wasn't any more encouraged to examine and understand my middle-class suburban status than I was my whiteness; again, just because I later examined the latter doesn't mean that I'm equally understanding of the former.

    So yes, for one thing, I shouldn't homogenize people who proudly label themselves rednecks any more than I would any racial grouping -- different people no doubt do that for different reasons, while other people who would seem to fit the label reject it. Thanks for pointing that out, and I'd appreciate anything you might have to add to it.

    BTW, why isn't the car launch "violent"? Violence doesn't require injury to another sentient being. A storm can be violent without hurting anyone, right?

    I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the car launch, and as I said in the post, I don't "look down" on it. I just wonder what the particular appeal is. To say it chases away boredom, or that it's just plain fun that a lot of people enjoy, doesn't go anywhere toward explaining why THIS kind of fun is what these folks enjoy. As I tried to speculate in the post, for example, some seem to view it vicariously -- they express a desire to do that sort of thing themselves. Why? Again, I'm not saying that's a bad desire; I'd just like a better understanding of where it's coming from, and frustration with a harder daily life than mine seems like the start of an answer. As I also said in the post, maybe this form of entertainment is something that the people in my suburban environment would have liked to do too, or else might have enjoyed, if they hadn't been so pent up, and/or "above" it (not to homogenize them either).

    ReplyDelete
  21. "frustration with a harder daily life than mine seems like the start of an answer."

    From the reference I mentioned above:

    The decision-makers and check-signers like it nice'n'easy. They languidly swing at golf balls or slump their tanned bodies halfway out the Jacuzzi onto the wet bar. They want tinkly Muzak jazz, wryly phrased verbal bonbons lobbed weightlessly over candlelight dinners, and avacado facials while sunning themselves at Club Melanoma. The top brass don't need monster trucks. They have monster bucks. No lust for heavy-metal pyrotechnics when your finger's already on the button....When you bust your ass all week you don't have patience for the soft stuff. If you've been laying hot tar on a roof all day, I don't think Mozart and a goblet of cognac are going to take out all the kinks in your neck. After hearing a jackhammer for eight hours, Broaadway show tune would ony induce migraines...If you hammer nails all week you want to get hammered on the weekend.
    The little wind-up toy soldier key in your back can't be wound any tighter. There's been a thorn in your side and a popcorn kernel stuck in your teeth all week. It's purification time. Whether actual or figurative, something has to die tonight.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Am I lost here?

    Maybe some posters should realize that violence is any mental, physical, social, or emotional aggression aimed directly (or indirectly) towards a person or object. It's not just people.

    Hence, violence toward pets or violence toward ideas. The car may be representative of something other than what you see there.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Thanks for the Goad quote, Isabel, I'll have to go back to that book. I of course agree with, and have stated here several times, the point he and others make, that a lot of whites have been kept down by elites who sought to divide them from their fellow laborers with the shibboleth of race (Tim Wise explains this really well too, here for instance), and David Roediger is of course all over it too. I seem to remember, though -- doesn't Goad make an overly strong case that working-class whites have had it, and continue to have it, just as bad as enslaved, and then lower-class, blacks? If I remember right, he got flack for that, which I thought was justified -- for overlooking the significant legup of white privilege. Please correct me if I'm misremembering that.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm not a historian, but he is not the only person - there are many - who claim white indentured servitude was as exploitative and involuntary as black slavery until the mid-1600's and continued to be a nightmare for long after. And that white workers have been as exploited as POC have been. The exploitation continued - think about it - why are West Virginians whose roots go back hundreds of years in the Appalachians working (and dying) in the coal mines instead of owning them? They were tricked out of their land as the Native Americans were. And now, being forced to drink brown water because of runoff? When you add in all the white children who worked 16 hour days in factories...the Irish who starved while their country was exporting food, the struggles and cross-burnings of Catholic white immigrants...and now the 'white' bashing and elevation of POC - no wonder it sticks in white working people's craws.

    I disagree with Tim Wise's comparison of the early history with the current immigration situation. Of course limiting immigration helps working people. The anti-immigration contingent of the Sierra Club that was shouted down had some interesting statistics that showed great improvement in black people's economic status duing the years of low immigration, well before the civil rights era.

    ReplyDelete
  25. As to my reference to this not being violence - yah, I guess I probably went a little overboard.

    The point I'm trying to make is that it's in a different category, perhaps like it might be therapeutic to scream into a pillow, or hit a punching bag. There's almost no risk (physical or emotional) to people, animals or valued property.

    T-storms, on the other hand pose actual risk, as do many popular sports.

    It's not quite the same thing as, say, UFC or bullfighting, where there is great risk of injury or death.

    ReplyDelete
  26. To say it chases away boredom, or that it's just plain fun that a lot of people enjoy, doesn't go anywhere toward explaining why THIS kind of fun is what these folks enjoy.

    I would explain that in terms of group identity.

    Fun is social. Enjoying the same things as a certain group helps make you part of that group, whereas mocking that group's forms of recreation is an act of hostility. From your perspective, they are redneck because they enjoy car-smashing - but more than that, they enjoy car-smashing because they and their family and friends are rednecks and that's just what rednecks do. (At least some. I don't know how common it actually is.)

    Why would rednecks smash cars in particular? Because they have a lot of run-down cars and a lot of open space. Plus, I believe the run-down car in your front yard is kind of a sign of redneck-ness, so it's already symbolic of their group identity. The smashing is just fun - fun to watch, and an excuse to have an event in the first place, and, I'm guessing, an excuse to get drunk.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Well, as to violent...more violent than the "healthy organized sports" you mentioned? It's loud, but not aggressive or intimidating to others. Violent seems like a pretty loaded term applied to "rednecks".

    Why this stuff is fun - it's a mechanical feat, it's a mess you don't have to fix, it's a bunch of people doing something together, probably with alcohol. There's planning and anticipation, application of knowledge, the chance that it won't work right, elation when it does. Ever watched a bunch of office workers light a bonfire? Same thing, smaller level of ability.

    Chemists and physicists like to explode, freeze and shatter, and otherwise destroy things for fun - does that make them low class?

    I can think of middle-class hobbies that are just easier or more expensive versions of destroying old cars - building historically authentic catapults, expensive home fireworks displays, watching Mythbusters.

    Which has nothing at all to do with why you'd call yourself a "redneck" to a reporter, or self identity. It just seems like an artificial lack of imagination for you to describe this clip the way you did.

    ReplyDelete
  28. You mention that destroying things for entertainment ("staged violence") is a lower class white thing to do. You're so very wrong. I think if you thought about it a bit more you would realize that white people in America, as one big lumped-together group, love being entertained by watching destruction.

    One of our central, collective holidays, our big summer bachannalia, is the 4th of July. Yes, it's about the birth of the country, but for most it's about setting things on fire and things exploding. Destruction. And drinking.

    As you pointed out, if you're poor white trash you've got car launches and destruction derbies.

    If you're a college-age middle class hipster white kid (or aging white hipster), there's Burning Man, a multi-day festival which culminates in the fiery destruction of a giant sculpture of a man.

    If you're a highly-educated consumer of the arts (most of whom are white) of any age, there's Survival Research Laboratories - one of the most violent displays of destruction you'll ever see short of being in a war. SRL's shows put white trash monster truck rallies and the like to shame.

    And then there's the virtual sphere. The computer and the TV. How can you forget that we white Americans love our destructo-rama computer games, and we white Americans of all ages love our action movies full of wrecked cars and explosions and general mayhem and destruction?

    I can't speak for whether other races and cultures in the US or around the world enjoy the same entertainment (they sure seem to love our movies and our games), but as I've shown, for whites in the US it definitely transcends class.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Interjecting your own value system on someone else's culture is the easiest way to not understand it. If you know (and many of us do) that you are likely to stay in the socio/economic class you are currently in, what better way to be satisfied with life, than to revel in what it means to you? The terms redneck and hillbilly have changed in terms of perception but they still identify (largely) people who are salt of the earth and work for what they have (not that that applies to everyone representing the title but....)

    ReplyDelete
  30. You know, the fact that you "realized" you were classist doesn't keep your post from BEING CLASSIST.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I agree, softestbullet, but could be more specific about how you see the post as classist?

    Above you suggested other topics I could focus on instead of the ones that I did, and then wrote,

    So, those are some issues you could focus on, but instead...

    But is redneck pride a good thing, or something that just further holds such people down, by distracting them from the real causes of their own immiseration?

    ...??? Did you really mean to ask, "Why won't those lower-class people stop oppressing themselves by taking pride in their identity?" (With the subtext of, "If those people would stop wasting time having fun, they wouldn't be poor," and, "Middle-class people can tell them how to live with their oppression.")


    No, what I really meant to ask was more like, "What if, instead of taking pride in a 'redneck' status and some or all of its connotations, working-class white people de-emphasized pride in a specifically white identity, and instead bonded together with other, non-white working class people in recognition of their mutual status, and in active opposition to the elites who are holding them all down?"

    ReplyDelete
  32. De-emphasizing suggests theirs something wrong with it. It's not just that they are in a certain economic position and choose to go along with activities that might "match" it, but that they actually enjoy those things. Why would you force yourself to watch golf if you don't like it and vice versa? Just because a culture is inherent to a race doesn't mean that it's purpose is to alienate other races.

    ReplyDelete
  33. But there is something wrong with it, insofar as it's a "white" identity, and therefore fundamentally counterposed, and counterpoised, to non-white identities, especially blackness.

    I'm not saying that they don't "actually enjoy" those things. I'm talking more generally about the "redneck" identity, and the other activities it encourages, and discourages. And it certainly is not an "inherent" identity -- it's not an irreducible expression of self.

    ReplyDelete
  34. So are you saying that there are no other cultures that are exclusive to one color, because that is far from the truth!? What symptoms do you feel are the cause of being a redneck?

    ReplyDelete
  35. Of course not Alexis, and I'm not saying that "redneck" culture, whatever that precisely is, is "exclusive" to blackness either. It's counterpoised to other non-white conceptions as well, though, I think, not as much. And other cultures are counterpoised to other cultures -- if I say that an apple is red, that doesn't automatically mean that I'm claiming nothing else is red.

    Symptoms are a result, aren't they, instead of a cause? At any rate, I think things causing the symptom or symptoms of "redneck culture" that I'm talking about -- shall we call what I'm talking about something like, real-world political apathy and impotence? -- are a general American sense of cluelessness about the realities of social class, and the general invisibility of the controlling elites. All of which I see as a result of the historical "divide-and-conquer" strategies explained especially well by Tim Wise in the video linked above.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Macon, yes, excuse me, I meant to say result. I will agree with you on real world political apathy. That's something many of us are guilty though, regardless of financial status. Getting out there and experiencing people in their "natural setting" is the only way to solve that (domestically and globally)but doing it with the recognition that your "station" in life isn't your only defining trait so that you can get past your perception of someone's culture/

    ReplyDelete
  37. In the old days, European societies had xenophobia and discrimination among one another...

    ...but later, all these identities were united as "White" as a much wider-spread system of xenophobia and discrimination against African, East Asian, South Asian, and Indigenous peoples developed with the era of global colonialism.

    Something to remember about that is thata lot of this isn't a strictly "White" thing. Many blacks & arabs sold black slaves to white slave traders. The indigenous tribes of North America & South America had been participating in wars & genocide against each other thousands of years before whitey showed up. It was just that white people had technology that made them better at it. During the middle ages the Arabian & Asian cultures that dominated the world were extremelly xenophobic & condoscending towards the West, evne when the West was showing them inventions like muskets & clocks. In fact a Muslim scientist was once reported to have said on the gun, "If an invention was worth existing it would come from the lands of Allah"

    "No, what I really meant to ask was more like, "What if, instead of taking pride in a 'redneck' status and some or all of its connotations, working-class white people de-emphasized pride in a specifically white identity, and instead bonded together with other, non-white working class people in recognition of their mutual status, and in active opposition to the elites who are holding them all down?"

    Macon, I'm one-generation removed from the sort of people who are talked about in this article (my dad was raised in this sort of place but ended up going to college & getting a good paying job, moved the family to suburbia, etc.). I can't speak for all of them but most of them don't believe that they are being oppressed by some sort of shadow-elites. I've been back to where I would've been had my dad never left and many are content to be this way. They like this culture, and one thing they don't like is anyone telling them that they need to be enlightened and removed from what it is that they love. They hate (as someone else mentioned in the comments section)the sort of cultural gentrification that's going on. And no, at least where I was going to be raised, it wasn't "bathed in racism" the town had sizable Native American & Hispanic populations.

    ReplyDelete
  38. I don't think automatically attaching the redneck label to racism is quite right. I have poor Southern whites in my family and they're some of the least racist people I know because they grew up living, working and playing with non-whites.

    My grandmother and mother, for instance, both grew up in legally defined black neighborhoods. In my mother's house, if you ever said the N-word or any other racist word, you'd better be prepared to lose your teeth. My great uncle's the same way. He'll toss you out of his house if you say anything racist. He's a retired diesel mechanic who grew up as a sharecropper and went against the Klan at the height of their power.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I do think there's something a bit 'off' about this post. I can't quite figure out what it is. But it does raise interesting, complicated questions.

    The trouble is its hard to talk about the topic (how class seems to work slightly differently in different racial groups) without straying onto 'stuff not-white people do', which I agree is dangerous territory for a white person. But likewise, perhaps its dodgy territory for an obviously very middle-class white person to start analysing (a) white working class culture. Maybe its safer to stick to analysing your own middle-class white culture?

    I'm not sure about the emphasis on 'violence' in the post either.

    First off, what's wrong with 'violence', if its defined so broadly, not just as 'causing harm to living things'? Violence in that broad sense is an essential part of life. Hammering a nail in to a wall, or melting iron ore, is a 'violent' act, as it smashing down the door of a burning house to rescue the occupant. Violence defined as you have (smashing something up that nobody else cares about, in a way that causes no-one else any harm) seems to me to be morally neutral.

    It's also not clear that its particularly a class thing. _Perhaps_ working class folk are more in contact with the 'violent' nature of everyday life than ultra-bourgious folk are, but I'm not sure about that either - what about 'Robot Wars' the TV show? Or violent computer games? Possibly its more a 'male' thing than a working class one?

    To me it seems your ultra-sensitivity about the issue might itself be the marker of a particular minority identity - the sensitive liberal upper middle class identity. Who's to say the 'rednecks' aren't actually 'the norm' in this respect and its your suburban sensitivity to this stuff that is the curious phenomena that needs to be analysed?

    Maybe that's what I find a bit unsettling about your post, its that it sort of assumes your class perspective is the 'norm', the objective one from which you can view this exotic 'other' whose deviance needs to be explained. The post seems to be contrasting the 'rednecks' less with black people than with middle-class urban/liberal people.

    As far as why its fun - I'm not sure that domino toppling or knocking down the sandcastle you just built is in principle any different from demolition derby - its entropy in action. The appeal is surely just the pleasure of being able to pursue something recklessly while not having to carefully moderate your actions?

    But all the same, I think you are right that class works a bit differently for white people in white majority societies than it does for POC. It's just really difficult to talk about why without speculating about non-white people's experiences.

    White people don't have a shared sense of racial disadvantage to complicated class differences, and, maybe, especially in the US, working class whites do have _enough_ privilege to be able to confidently assert a stable identity 'from below' - perhaps that's a bit harder if you are doubly disadvantaged as both poor and black (I'm thinking how self-destructive 'Gangsta' culture appears to be, but again, I'm straying onto speculating about the experiences of black people, sorry).

    PS it won't let me watch the video. But is 'car launching' anything like the episode of 'Top Gear' where they tried to turn a Reliant Robin into a space shuttle by attaching a rocket to it and launching it?

    ReplyDelete
  40. p, I put in another version of the video to replaced the "pulled" version -- hope this one works for you.

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, which I hope to address soon.

    ReplyDelete
  41. @honeybrown1976 said:

    Hence, violence toward pets or violence toward ideas. The car may be representative of something other than what you see there.

    LMAO! You people are silly. Just plain silly. I never dreamt that so much psychobabble would erupt from this event. Reading the post and comments is nearly as entertaining as watching the F-150 with the round baler fly through the air.

    I was there, and it was a great time for my family and I. (Not to mention extremely cheap.)

    If I were to come up with some psychobabble of my own, I'd say that people who care too much about what others think of them are envious of the fact that rednecks (hillbillies, hicks, whatever) just don't give a rat's ass and can enjoy things that citiots wouldn't dream of participating in for fear of what their peers might think of them.

    Sometimes you just need to pull the stick out from your posterior and have some fun. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  42. I know all of the people on the video they are quite lovely people with hearts as big as the dirt hill they're looking upon. You know that term redneck...well they got that from some TV shows...these are genuine people who make honest livings by working hard, and loving their children. I don't know where you live or what you do but here we support each other in good times and bad. You need to travel to our community. We are accepting people who do not judge others by their or creed. People here make fun from funny stuff. Stop by someday!

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hey Macon,

    I have endless love and appreciation for what you do. I come to this site as a resource and a refresher, and what you do through your blog is what I try to do in my own life.

    But I have to ask you a hard question: You got a privilege check - but did you really take it? Don't you think the advice on what to do when you cause harm through racism or privilege applies here?

    An admission of fallibility with a lengthy rationale for what you did and didn't say and a devolution into semantics...is that really responsive to the many people who called you out on your classism? I think it would have been more appropriate to say, "Oh, shit, that was classist, wasn't it? I'm sorry. I'm going to keep working on that."

    Privilege checks suck, they truly do. But when you take on the responsibility to educate in community, you need to model.

    If you can hear this from me, just know that I'm right there with you. Trying to learn what it means to be white, and how to make things better. And I mess up a lot, too.

    ReplyDelete
  44. I do hear that from you, sisterface, thank you, and I do see this all as a "privilege check."

    You wrote,

    An admission of fallibility with a lengthy rationale for what you did and didn't say and a devolution into semantics...is that really responsive to the many people who called you out on your classism? I think it would have been more appropriate to say, "Oh, shit, that was classist, wasn't it? I'm sorry. I'm going to keep working on that."

    That reminds me of apologies in some relationships I've had. One party gets upset at the other party's behavior, and the upsetting party says, "Oh, you're upset. I'm sorry. Forgive me now. Um, please." But the upset party still feels like, "But, but, you're not demonstrating any understanding of WHY I'm upset. I want an apology that's more worth accepting, because then I'll feel more assured that you won't do it again."

    That's not a perfect analogy, but as the upsetting party here, I am working on this, and on a way to respond. I started that in at least one comment above, where I started to work through the classism that I admit I bear and enact, and that I know is enacted in this post. Just how that's displayed in this post still isn't clear to me, though I am working on it.

    As I wrote in a comment above, and in the post, I realize that my middle-class perspective is as invisible to me as my whiteness is, and that the former is more so because I haven't worked on it as much as the latter.

    One more note for now on just how I screwed up. I think this post about my post, at Jane Van Galen's blog, Education and Class, captures a problem well, in its title alone: "Those Curious Working Class Folks." Van Galen's brief post says,

    Some Education and Class readers might be interested in the conversation over at Stuff White People Do, in which a middle-class white male ponders the meaning of the curious rituals of rural working class whites.

    The comments are great. I’m still deciding whether to join in.

    But I need to take a deep breath first.


    What I gather Van Galen is saying is that my middle-class perspective in this post on rural, working-class white people is distanced, and sort of, smug, and probably presumptuous as well. And maybe, objectifying. I tried to end the post with an expression of hope for lessened working-class-white immiseration, but the post as a whole doesn't come across that way. Perhaps instead, it turns rural working class people and this "ritual" of theirs into a spectacle for people like me to laugh at in a distanced, unsympathetic way (though I myself wasn't laughing) -- which is, ironically, what I was trying to criticize the newsreporter for doing.

    So for now, for anyone reading this comment who was offended or otherwise irked by this post -- I apologize, I know I screwed up, and I will keep working on this aspect of my privileged self.

    ReplyDelete
  45. To be fair to Macon D, even though this blog occassionally irks me in its attitude to class, I often find it difficult, as in this case, to explicate exactly what the problem is.

    The thing about this piece's emphasis on 'violence' is that it reminded me of the classmate from school whose parents were middle class hippy types (noticably more middle-class than the rest of us) who was the only child in the class not allowed to watch 'violent' TV. We all felt sorry for him, as I remember, as he never knew what we were talking about when discussing last night's telly. In this article it seems to be talking as if that one kid is the 'norm' and its the rest of us that need to be analysed.

    If it had been posed as 'why do _we_' or 'why do _men_' like violent entertainment, or, ignoring that issue entirely, just 'why is there so little cross-racial class solidarity in the US' I think it would have been open to argument but not offensive.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Much respect, Macon D, truly. And I hear ya. I started my social justice learning with racism, because it felt most pernicious and damaging. It bothered me the most, so I've done the most work on it. And now I'm slowly starting to realize how many types of privilege and prejudice are nearly invisible to me, and what a long journey it's gonna be. Thanks for your insight - it makes it easier.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I find it upsetting that people not only condone, but actually promote this uncouth behavior. Larry the Cable Guy and other entertainers makes it seem socially acceptable to have a mattress on your lawn, and drive Cadillac Escallades thinking them classy (as opposed to aspirational and gauche. They aren't exactly understated vehicles.)

    Yet, why not help these people civilize? Why not expose them to Johann Quantz, Bach, Schubert, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Buxtehude, and other classical musicians while in school? Why not teach them manners and etiquette? People actually laughed when somebody joked about "Opening a can of beer at a funeral" thus making such behavior seem acceptable. I think that rednecks need to be given demerits for when their hair touches their blazer, just like the old boys at certain other schools.

    Mine opinion is that if the rednecks help civilize and develop taste, then the lowest common denominator egalitarianism can be reversed. What is so entertaining about watching cars drive around in circles? What about subtlety? Why not go to symphonies and operas? Why not go to a black tie party? Or Summer on the Vineyard, Nantucket, Fisher Island, Chatham, or some other place in New England?

    I'm still surprised that polo isn't popular amongst rednecks: It is a tough, bone crushing sport and people fall off their horses.

    ReplyDelete
  48. "Americans are often described as oblivious to the realities of social class, and I think that's true in many respects. We're often unaware of just what social class is, and how a class-based hierarchy works in and shapes our society, and our own life chances."

    What about the educational system? Why does somebody who attended Collegiate, Milton, Episcopal Acadamy, Exeter, Andover, one of the St.Grottlesex schools, or any other feed into the Ivy League have privileges and advantages over those who attended less well known schools like St.Johns or Austin Prep? Why does everybody talk about how they want to go to Oxford or Cambridge? Or, if they want to stay here in America Harvard or Yale? And if in Yale aspire to being a Bonesman (why would anyone want to pleasure themselves in a coffin in front of people dressed like Francis Bacon, the Pope, grim reaper, and Satan anyway?) or Harvard aspire to get into Porcellian (FDR couldn't get in, but Teddy Roosevelt did)? Because they carry with them advantages.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Gosh, I guess people can't read the comment policy. Whole lot of "derailing for dummies" happening up in this piece. Not a chance I'm voicing my thoughts in this white people's whine fest.

    ReplyDelete

Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code